TO RECOVERY & BEYOND: THE FUTURE OF TRAVEL & TOURISM IN THE WAKE OF COVID-19
The world has and continues to suffer sizeable losses and setbacks due to COVID-19. Not least among those setbacks is the shock to the Travel & Tourism sector. As 90% of the global population adjusted to life under travel restrictions and others stayed home in fear of the virus itself, the sector came to a near-total standstill. Communities, large and small, depending on tourism are shouldering the burden of zero revenues, and millions have been furloughed or laid off within a few short months. Indeed, more than 121 million global Travel & Tourism jobs and an estimated US$3.4 trillion in global GDP could be lost as a result of COVID-19 according to WTTC’s baseline scenario; a figure which could reach 197 million jobs before the end of the year according to our downside scenario due to lack of international coordination and international leadership.
Yet, Travel & Tourism private sector leaders have remained strong and steadfast in the face of adversity. Over the past few months, the sector has sought to enhance traveler safety, provide for their workforce, and support local communities. In effect, industry leaders are seizing the crisis as an opportunity to further enable the inclusive and sustainable growth of the sector. While governments have extended some support, more is needed, both in terms of coordination and the implementation of enabling policies to support the sector’s recovery. It will be essential to have a global coordinated approach, enhance the current seamless travel experience, embrace the integration of new technologies and enact global protocols for health and hygiene to ultimately rebuild the confidence of travelers.
As we re-imagine the future of Travel & Tourism, and explore policy recommendations, four trends are expected to lead the way through recovery and beyond:
Traveler preferences and behaviors have shifted toward the familiar, predictable, and trusted. Domestic and regional vacations and the outdoors will reign in the short-term, with tourism businesses and destinations already adapting. It will be vital, however, to ensure early stimulation of the all-important recovery of international travel. Transparent communication will be even more important to travelers in spurring demand. Though the longevity of these shifts is still unclear, the Travel & Tourism sector has a unique opportunity to rethink prevailing business models and co-create with local communities as it considers its most valuable asset: its people.
Health and safety are paramount in this new era. Personal experiences, advice from experts, and concerns for distancing will guide consumer behavior in the short- to mid-term. Businesses will have to collaborate even more closely with their extended value chains to ensure readiness and the implementation of likeminded protocols, such as WTTC’s Safe Travels protocols. In this context, trust, extensive communication and the flow of accurate information, between travelers and employees, businesses and suppliers, and visitors and local communities; will be a leading engine in the recovery of the sector.
COVID-19 is proving to be an unexpected catalyst in the Travel & Tourism sector’s quest for innovation and the integration of new technologies. Amid stay-at-home orders, digital adoption and consumption are on the rise, with consumers now expecting contactless technologies, including biometrics among others, as a basic prerequisite for a safe and seamless travel experience. Cybersecurity is only becoming more important, particularly as remote work becomes the norm in the short to medium term and as identities are digitized. While digitization offers tremendous opportunities, precautions are needed to make sure employees and local communities are not left behind. Interestingly, the acceleration of the digital agenda is one positive outcome of this crisis.
From widespread unemployment and anti-racism movements to the restoration of natural habitats and the impact on ecosystems, the world has been re-invigorated to tackle social, environmental, and institutional sustainability. In particular, heightened public awareness of the environment and wildlife markets and poaching has boosted advocacy for wildlife protection as well as ocean preservation. Businesses are facing growing scrutiny, for both their environmental track record and their support for diversity and inclusion. Given the high participation of women, minorities and youth compared to other sectors, Travel & Tourism has a unique ability to further protect and engage vulnerable groups whilst reducing poverty and inequality. This is the time for the sector to accelerate the meaningful changes that will make a lasting difference for future generations.